Why Petty Slights Do Not Constitute Workplace Discrimination

Some people in the California workplace may end up on the receiving end of behavior they feel is impolite, rude, or annoying. For example, a colleague might interrupt you while you are talking, and perhaps too frequently for your taste. Although some employees may consider such behavior as a form of harassment, the truth is that for workplace behavior to qualify as discrimination, it needs to rise above just petty slights.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary website, slighting can take a number of forms. Someone may be neglectful, either involuntarily or voluntarily, by not paying proper attention to a duty or task that merits that person’s attention. This can extend to workplace interaction with colleagues. Also, a person that is acting hastily or carelessly may end up overlooking a courtesy. Additionally, some colleagues may be forgetful of workplace courtesy without malice, but others may intentionally not remember being polite or considerate, which is what is usually thought of as slighting.

Petty slights, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, are not considered grounds for workplace harassment. In order for workplace harassment to take place, the ill conduct must result in a work environment that reasonable people would find hostile or offensive. This kind of conduct can include physical threats or attacks, insults, name-calling, epithets and slurs, jokes that are offensive, displaying offensive imagery or objects, or interfering with an employee’s performance at the workplace.

When it comes to determining if workplace harassment has taken place, the EEOC will examine the nature of the alleged offensive conduct and the context surrounding the incident. The difference between petty slights and discriminatory behavior is that slighting a person is often very brief and is usually neglect of manners or courtesy without involving an open insult of a person’s race, gender, disability or sexual orientation. Still, the EEOC does encourage workers, if they believe they have been the victims of discrimination, to report it to their superiors.

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